Dan Johnson has adequately adapted Rudyard Kipling’s original text in his reworking of various stories about Mowgli from The Jungle Book (1894) and The Second Jungle Book (1895). The dialogue and caption entries are sometimes text heavy and archaic for young readers, but the flavour of Kipling’s artistry is much more evident than in the, perhaps, better known Disney version. The cartoonish and colourful illustrations by Amit Tayal are effective and appealing. The expressive characters, both human and feral, are emotional individuals and their motivations and angst are readily apparent for readers. The story itself follows the discovery of the young infant by the tiger Shere Khan and his immediate rescue by the wolves through to Mowgli’s final poignant return, at age seventeen, to the world of humankind. The book is a whirlwind of action in 101 pages: adoption, lessons about the Law of the Jungle from Baloo (the Bear) and Bagherra (the panther), and abduction by monkeys with a long-lasting friendship with Kaa (the python) as a major result. This is swiftly followed with Mowgli’s first return to the human world, his killing of Shere Khan (the tiger), and Mowgli’s understanding of his lack of place in either world. Eventually he saves the pack from the red dogs, but at great cost to the pack, his friends, and his peace of mind.
This volume is intended for young adult readers, although the cover is reminiscent of images from the Disney film and may attract parents and younger readers to it. While there is blood and violence in this story, it is not glorified in the illustrations and certainly should not cause alarm for the caregivers of the younger set. It is the amount and complexity of text that designates this as a more satisfying read for teens. The vibrant colour stands out for this reviewer. The lush greens of the jungle, the moody skies of night and danger, and the brilliant yellow of the sun rays as Mowgli leaves his friends and the reader on the last page are evocative, effective, and imposing. The elongated figures of the animals suggest an even more surreal situation than the text, which is an impressive accomplishment, and often propose a malicious and frightening appeal to these characters. Mowgli at times is recognizably tender, angry, confused, and anxious and, throughout all of the portrayals, strong and self confident.
The story arc itself is prefaced by an entry about Rudyard Kipling and a paragraph about the illustrator. There is no information, however, provided about the adapter of the text other than his name in the credits. A full page illustration identifying the main characters follows before the reader is plunged into the non-stop story action. Two pages of concise information bites follows the conclusion to the story, highlighting particulars about the Law of the Jungle, feral children in literature and in actuality, the rationale behind tigers becoming eaters of human flesh, and the setting of the original stories. Several questions to ponder are also included as is a full colour poster that can be detached from the book. The main question I wanted answered, however, was not addressed: How do Mowgli’s tiny red underpants continue to grow with him throughout the seventeen years of his living in the jungle?
Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book
by Rudyard Kipling, Dan Johnson
Art by Amit Tayal
Campfire Classics, 2011
Publisher Age Rating: 11+